HOLCOMB — A kindergarten class at Wiley Elementary School in Holcomb showed just how much dedication a 5-year-old can muster when pizza is on the line.

Mindy Cornelsen’s kindergarten class took first place in a school-wide can drive aimed at collecting nonperishable groceries to be donated to the Emmaus House homeless shelter in Garden City. The drive raised thousands of cans and other nonperishable food items through a contest spanning Wiley and Holcomb elementary schools as part of the district’s National Red Ribbon Week. As a first-place prize, winners were awarded a pizza party — the golden catalyst for kindergarten charity.

They also get the “warm, fuzzy feeling of helping people that have no food,” said Amy Mosburg, a school counselor for both schools.

Cornelsen’s students essentially swept a competition ranging all the way to fifth grade, with a total score of 214 cans. It was a close race though. At Wiley the difference between first and third place was a mere five cans. Ann Knoll’s first-graders clocked second place with 211 cans, and Hallie Kristalyn’s first-graders took third with 209. In all, Wiley students collected a total of 1,220 cans with the help of their parents.

Mosburg said the can drive was organized for the kids by Holcomb High School students involved in Students Against Destructive Decisions. She said the event has been running for six years, adding that one year yielded 3,000 donated cans.

“Every day they brought maybe 10 to 20 cans,” Cornelsen said. “Every kid, I think, tried to bring something.”

Cornelsen said the kids were told the main goal was help others above all else, but, “At this age, for some of them the party ranks higher than where it goes.”

But regardless of motivation, Cornelsen said this was the first time her class has won at Wiley in two years, and throughout her entire teaching career, “this is the first time I’ve had the most kids that have donated.”

“They were bringing cans every day,” Cornelsen said. “Usually, it’s the first day and then they’re done. I think every day I had somebody bring cans. They were pretty excited about it.”

So excited, the day before the winners were announced they were 10 cans behind. But, they closed the gap in the end and came out three cans ahead for a narrow but clean victory.

Now, her students are ready to reap their rewards. For Carsyn Haunschild, Canadian bacon pizza is the proper prize. Taytum Myers, another student destined for pizza, said she craves pepperoni pizza as her prize.

“The kids know that they’re doing a community service,” Mosburg said. “They know that they’re helping families that have no food.”

Deana Novack, principal of Holcomb and Wiley elementary schools, said she was inspired by the competitive spirit shown by the kids at Wiley.

“The teachers presented a way where the students were helping people, and it wasn’t about winning, it was about helping people,” Novack said. “Usually the younger kids we get a better response from because they get excited and go home and tell their parents.”

Cornelsen said the kids will have to wait until November for the pizza party, but she emphasized her appreciation of parental support.

“I appreciate the parents donating to a good cause,” she said. “Parent support is really good.”

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.